As big an affront to the nation’s morals as buying nice stuff for his mum

Tom Davies
Photograph: James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images

A STERLING EFFORT

Supporters of smaller clubs have all been there: a star forward excels over a period of time, incites gossip and interest from the game’s giants, attempts are made to “unsettle” them and before you know it they’re posing suggestively with potential suitors’ memorabilia. So sympathy, please, for relentlessly persecuted underdogs and fearless anti-elitism campaigners Manchester City, whose fans will have been tormented today by a cover of the Spanish tabloid AS, which features Raheem Sterling draped in a Real Madrid top.

He’s also draped in a Manchester City one too, mind, in the half-and-half style beloved of your modern souvenir tat-scarf hawkers, for a feature ostensibly pegged around his thoughts on the upcoming Big Cup clash between the two clubs, but in which the subject of possible sensational transfer swoops was never far from the surface. “How do I answer that one? Is the camera live or is it just taking pictures?” he philosophised, fiddling with the buttons on his interviewer’s phone, when asked about the possibility of doing one to the Bernabéu.

Related: Guardiola relaxed about Sterling praising 'fantastic' Real Madrid

“No one knows what the future will hold. I am a player and I am always open to challenges but right now my challenge is at City and I’m really happy. I have a contract with City now and I have to respect this.” But then he added: “Real Madrid are a fantastic club. When you see the white shirt you know exactly what the club stands for, it’s massive.” As will be the reaction to all this. It’s been a while since the last piece of confected Sterling-related outrage, so we’ll just have to see whether tabloids and social media disgraces consider this latest photoshoot controversy to be as big an affront to the nation’s morals as getting tattoos or buying nice stuff for his mum.

Pep Guardiola is relaxed about the whole affair, growling “players are free to talk” from beneath a hoodie. The Fiver, as ever given the absolute state of its own moral compass (which is fashioned from nuggets of Weird Uncle Fiver’s meandering anecdotes and the considered late-night thoughts of the bloke down the Tin shop), awaits guidance on this matter. Still, we can expect more of these larks as City’s battle with Uefa’s overlords over their Big Club ban rumbles on and the other clubs who have not fallen foul of the clearly stated rules vultures begin to circle.

Before you know it, perhaps City will be building their 2020-21 side around Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Tommy Doyle, or bringing back Shaun Goater and Paul Dickov to spearhead the attack while the wily old dog of war Joe Royle returns to the dugout after Pep has fled. Or perhaps not. Either way, our self-fulfilling prophecy that City’s predicament will keep us in Fivers for months is one thing we seem to be right about, so that’s something.

QUOTES OF THE DAY

“We have paid the clause in line with the regulations, but they should be revised because it is not fair that Leganés cannot now sign anyone” –Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu breezily washes his hands of any responsibility after signing Martin Braithwaite.

“What do you want me to do, cry? It would be disrespectful to say we’re screwed” – Leganés coach Javier Aguirre offers a more forthright take.

FIVER LETTERS

“With planning permission submitted for Everton’s shiny new dockside stadium, the only thing missing from the plans is a shiny new statue of the club’s latest beloved leader, currently going spare in Naples” – Steve Malone.

It’s a two-for-one deal. Photograph: Gregorio Borgia/AP

“The Bell’s Challenge Cup [Thursday’s Fiver]? Can I be the 1,057th pedant to point out that you are thinking of the (former) Bell’s League Cup? The name of the illustrious competition you were looking for is the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup. I fine you two Tea Cakes (one suspended)” – Dr Peter Storch (and no other pedants).

“Surely the solution to the VAR troubles is to put it into the managers’ hands: Give them the right to call on VAR once per half with a 30-second window in which to make that call. If they use it, they lose it” – José Mouri Tony Gower.

“Braga fans would’ve been better off going to Arturo’s delicatessen to sample the Portuguese pastéis de nata. If the Pope’s Newc O’Rangers were playing Kaizer Chiefs, then you’d expect Nando’s to be busy” – Matthew Keeler.

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … Steve Malone.

NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

José Mourinho says dragging what’s left of his Spurs squad into the top four would be his greatest achievement. “Nobody else in the Premier League is in such a difficult situation,” he sniffed.

Shkodran Mustafi has credited Mikel Arteta with turning his Arsenal fortunes around. “He speaks about things I have never heard before”, cooed the centre-back, as Arteta handed him a fresh copy of Defending for Dummies.

Jordan Henderson’s bout of hamstring-ouch! has put him out for three weeks, in a blow to Liverpool’s title chall… ah.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek will return to the Chelsea squad for their Lah’n derby with Spurs, after a long spell out with Achilles-gah – but N’Golo Kanté is sidelined with muscle-twang.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær has backed Anthony Martial to bag 20 goals this season after the Frenchman hit the equaliser in Euro Vase. “He takes his chances really well,” roared the Manchester United manager.

Bury AFC, the phoenix club formed with the original Bury on the verge of liquidation, will play in the North West Counties Football League next season.

Roy Hodgson is giving Crystal Palace v Newcastle the hard sell. “Most games [between us] seem to be 1-0 or 2-0 and I don’t see any particular event on the horizon to suggest this won’t be that type of game,” Hodgson mused.

And Friday’s big fitba encounter between St Mirren and Hearts is AFF after heavy rain in Paisley.

STILL WANT MORE?

The Premier League is properly back – so here are 10 things to look out for this weekend.

Max Rushden on Jimmy Greaves, Manchester City and the lure of the football conspiracy theory.

Talking of which, which club will end up nabbing Man City’s Big Cup place? Ben McAleer assesses the contenders, from Spurs to Sheffield United.

Hot compo action! Composite: Getty Images

Newcastle don’t score, don’t have the ball much, don’t make many passes and generally don’t make the heart soar, but they’re clear of relegation. Louise Taylor on how the stats are lying for the Toon.

Glasgow City have bossed the women’s game in Scotland, and are ready for the challenge of a rebooted Pope’s Newc O’Rangers and Queen’s Celtic, writes Ewan Murray

Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!

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